FLASH FRIDAY: USA, USA! HAMILTON, 1776 & Many More Patriotic Musicals
Today we are shining a solo spotlight on the history-based musicals celebrating American figures in honor of July 4!
Another National Anthem
HAMILTON to ASSASSINS, the history of real-life figures that feature in many musical theatre pieces is astounding to consider, but particularly so when focusing purely on the musicals with a prominently patriotic bent. Currently, Broadway is home to not one but two major musicals preparing to premiere in the next month or so having to do with individuals who actually existed - I am speaking, of course, of the central protagonists of both AMAZING GRACE and HAMILTON. Opening first, AMAZING GRACE is centered on John Newton, who was an English slave trader who was made a slave himself and eventually escaped his fate to become a Doctor Of Divinity as awarded by Princeton University and subsequently had a significant hand in abolishing the slave trade in Great Britain. Similarly, Alexander Hamilton is a colorful figure from the last two centuries who acted as a central figure in the shaping of many modern doctrines, laws and freedoms that we enjoy in the United States to this very day. The list goes on from there, but with the Fourth Of July occurring this weekend, now is an ideal time to remember some of the most significant American musicals that celebrate the liberty for all that we experience in our day-to-day lives as part of this great country, with a particular emphasis on the actual men and women who helped make those freedoms a possibility in their own lifetimes.
No patriotic musicals list would be complete without 1776. The Sherman Edwards/Peter Stone musical eloquently and entertainingly presents the forefathers of the United States - John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock among them - as they convene to create the Declaration of Independence during this very week way back in the eponymous year. So, too, does RAGTIME present many major figures from all facets of American history - Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Emma Goldman, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington and J.P. Morgan included - tying their stories together in a compelling and enchanting manner. Then, there is GEORGE M!, which shows us an inside look at the man behind the music for many of the most oft-performed and most familiar patriotic anthems ever crafted, George M. Cohan. Furthermore, the Pulitzer Prize-winning OF THEE I SING is a witty and astute political parody which was crafted by early Golden Age pioneers George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and George S. Kaufman, along with Morrie Ryskind. Additionally, BLOOMER GIRL explores life during the Civil War and famously starred Broadway icon Barbara Cook in the forefront, whereas Irving Berlin and Robert E. Sherwood's MISS LIBERTY explores the creating of that unmistakable American landmark, the Statue Of Liberty. Plus, BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON is a wild hard rock take on the true story of America's seventh president and 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE explores the lives of several of America's famous leaders (and those who served them). The list goes on.
Then, there are the Sondheim musicals dealing with the American experience - from the culture wars on the streets of Manhattan elemental to WEST SIDE STORY (and the real-life kids who inspired it) all the way to the Westernization of Japan and America's influence on the island floating in the middle of the sea up to ASSASSINS, which provocatively deals with the various presidential assassins and posits some of the potential motivations behind what they did and why they did it (or attempted to do, as the case may be) - not to mention ROAD SHOW, Sondheim's most recent musical, which explores the lives of intriguing American history footnotes Addison and Wilson Mizner. The history of American musicals dealing with American history is vast and the emphasis of authors on exploring characters with patriotic leanings within that list is just as fascinating to experience and explore.
So, now, let's take a look at some of the best and brightest musicals about America and July 4th itself to date.
First up, 1776 is a must-see for musical theatre fans every year around this time - and, for good reason.
Check out the 1997 Broadway revival cast of 1776 on THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW.
Get a look at the famous feature film adaptation of 1776 starring almost the entire original Broadway cast.
HAMILTON is likely to be the next great homespun Broadway musical celebrated on our high holidays like July 4.
GEORGE M! is another patriotic musical with a real-life history well worth enjoying again and again.
Also, delight in this vintage recording of OF THEE I SING from way back in 1932.
Barbara Cook performs standout selections from Civil War-era musical BLOOMER GIRL live in 1956.
Of course, RAGTIME is a quintessential American musical all about the American experience.
RAGS is another musical dealing with the immigrant experience in a poignant and powerful manner.
WEST SIDE STORY presents one of the most memorable songs about America ever written or performed
PACIFIC OVERTURES shows that America's impact could be felt all the way around the world, in Japan.
ASSASSINS showcased Sondheim and John Weidman's analysis of presidential assassins.
As a special bonus, revisit Idina Menzel's 2015 Super Bowl performance of the National Anthem. Wow!
So, what is your absolute favorite historically-based musical with a patriotic bent? Furthermore, will HAMILTON soon join the great pantheon of true-life-based Broadway musicals dealing with a major American figure to be celebrated on July 4th like the Broadway babies among us do each and every year with many of the titles on this list? Time will tell, but history is already being incredibly kind to the Off-Broadway smash hit preparing for world domination - not unlike a certain country known for its red, white and blue flag waving grandly from sea to shining sea.
Photo Credits: Public Theater, 1776, West Side Story, etc.